“Trust me, you’ve done me a favor,” Ginny told Hermione as they sat across from each other at a table the Three Broomsticks. “As much as I love my kids, having an excuse to take them to Grandma’s for a night makes it feel more like my birthday than yours.”
Hermione smiled. “Well good, you deserve a break. Even if your layabout husband and brother are off playing hero aurors at the ministry instead of joining us on time.”
Ron and Harry were running late - some kind of issue at work - for their evening with Hermione to celebrate her birthday. They were at the Three Broomsticks because it was close to Hogwarts, where Hermione had worked as a Professor for several years. Ginny caught sight of a flash of red hair coming through the pub's Floo, but she was surprised to see George instead of Ron walking up to them.
“Great news!” he announced when he reached their table. “Some senile witch was wandering around Muggle Cardiff charming random objects seafoam green because she wanted to spiff up the place.”
“Oh dear,” Hermione looked worried.
“She’s fine,” George added quickly. “Resting comfortably at St. Mungos, but the Ministry is overwhelmed sorting out the obliviates and cover story for all the Muggles who saw her doing it.”
“How is that good news?” Hermione asked.
“Because the boys are stuck there helping deal with it and can’t make it, so you get me instead," George finished with a winning smile.
Ginny rolled her eyes. “All she could have wished for.”
“Absolutely, happy birthday to you Hermione!” he declared as he sat down next to Ginny. What are we drinking?”
Ginny and Hermione had just finished eating, so they agreed to order drinks. They chatted for a while, until George convinced them to start a friendly game of Never Have I Ever, one he assured them he would fail miserably at against the two of them.
Ginny suspected he was right. She also suspected that there was something going on with George. He’d been less available and tight lipped about why. Whenever he was working on a new product or business deal he always talked about it endlessly, so the silence was especially odd. When she dropped the kids off earlier that evening, Ginny's mum suggested that George had a new girlfriend. Ginny wondered if the girl was his shop assistant Verity, because that would explain why he was so uncharacteristically silent. Maybe she could slip something into the game - after George had been losing for a while - to find out for sure.
Her brother started things off with never having finished his final year at Hogwarts. Ginny followed with never having dropped out of school.
“I didn’t drop out! And I came back and took it over with you,” Hermione insisted.
“You skived off the whole year,” George said. “Had to go back for a repeat. But they let you teach now, so you must not have missed much. Your turn.”
Hermione’s eyes narrowed for a moment, before she shook her head at George. “So glad you're here instead of Harry and Ron,” she said. “Alright, never have I ever been on the house Quidditch team."
Ginny was starting to think their game could go on for a while with each of them easily thinking of things the other two had done. Setting her glass down, she noticed a dark form approaching them. She was surprised to see Professor Snape standing next to their table. Hermione smiled up at him.
"I seem to recall the golden trio having a different composition,” he said scanning the group. “You have a Granger, a Potter, and a Weasley, but something's off."
"We're the stand ins," George said.
"Have the originals blown themselves up?" he asked, with a twinge of hope.
"They're both working tonight, and we didn't want to leave Hermione alone on her birthday."
“Yes, that would be so much worse,” he said in a way that made it clear he thought the opposite was true. Hermione rolled her eyes, but she was still smiling.
It was a long shot, but Ginny realized here was an opportunity to make their evening far more interesting.
"Join us, please,” Ginny said to Snape. “We're playing Never Have I Ever and it's terribly boring because it's too easy for us to think of things the other two have done." Boring was an exaggeration, but hopefully a good enticement.
"Aren't you a little old for drinking games?"
"I'll be dead before that stops me from doing anything," George declared. "Possibly longer, I plan to haunt the school and have glorious pranking wars with Peeves."
"Perhaps you could replace Nearly Headless Nick as your house ghost," Snape suggested. "It would be appropriate as Gryffindor is primarily a joke."
"Oh he's got to play!" Ginny rubbed her hands together and grinned at Hermione.
"Come off it Gin," George chided. "He's worse off than me. There's nothing we've all done that he hasn't."
Snape's eyes narrowed. "Never have I ever," he started, straightening as if he were lecturing a class, "been in Gryffindor house. Nor have I been a member of an underground student club called Dumbledore's Army, nor have I taken a class from a best selling fraud."
"I stand thoroughly corrected," George raised his glass in a toast to the Professor. "Cheers! And you just took three turns in a row so you're officially playing."
Hermione smiled up at Snape, holding a hand out to the empty seat next to her. He hesitated a moment before taking it.
"I'm next," George said with a grin as Snape gestured to Rosmerta to bring him something. But her brother's face fell as he looked between his three companions. "Hold on, this is surprisingly difficult."
George was still pondering when Rosmerta brought Snape's drink over, something Ginny didn't recognize - it was in a lowball glass and dark.
"Got it! Never have I ever taken any N.E.W.T.s."
Ginny took a drink along with Snape and Hermione, and the game fell to her. She suddenly realized just how hard this really was, and wished she'd been thinking during George's turn.
"Oh hell, this is impossible," she said as she looked at the three. She hated to settle for two of them. Just as she was about to give up-
"Never have I ever met Quirinus Quirrell." Ginny announced, grinning as the other three picked up their drinks.
Hermione went next. "Alright, I have one. Never have I ever had a witch or wizard parent."
Ginny thought she'd have a moment to think of something for her next turn but Snape immediately spoke, "Never have I ever suffered a lesson from a ministry appointed toad."
George took his drink and beamed at Snape. "I had an idea but you just gave me a better one. Never have I ever had a Potions lesson from anyone other than you."
"Damn Horace Slughorn," Ginny mumbled as she lifted her glass to her lips. It was already back to her and she had no clue. She couldn't come up with anything else from the year before she started at Hogwarts, and everything she hadn't done only applied to two of the others, never all three.
"You're all so different... alright, I know this is true for two of you," she glanced at Hermione and her brother. "Never have I ever set someone on fire."
"Oh loads of times," George knocked back a large gulp. "Testing products with Fred, annoying Percy...."
Snape drank, and Ginny chose not to call attention to it given his experience might not have been as fun as George's. Hermione, however, had gone a bit pink as she took a quick drink and was now glaring at Ginny.
"What?" Ginny asked, perplexed.
"You needn't trouble yourself Granger," Snape drawled. "I'm well aware that I am the person she is referring to. Or at least, the first. Perhaps you made a hobby of it."
"You knew?" Hermione's eyebrows shot up as she turned to Snape. "And I wasn't punished?"
"I didn't know at the time, but it was obvious by the end of the year it was one of you three, and you were the only one capable of the spell. Given that you stopped a maniac I decided to let it go. Of course, if I had known the nonsense Dumbledore was about to pull with my house cup, I would have taken appropriate points for enkindling a professor."
“I wasn't actually trying to set you on fire, just your cloak." Hermione mumbled, reaching out and lightly touching the garment.
“That's even worse, do you have any idea how much this wool costs?” Snape responded. He turned to Ginny and George. “Never have I ever slept at the burrow.”
Ginny grumbled into her drink as George jumped straight into his turn.
“Never have I ever had my hair longer than chin length,” he announced triumphantly to the three long haired people sitting with him.
“Wait,” Ginny quickly held up her hand to stop the others. “You had shoulder length hair in my third year.”
“Yes, you did! Mum’s still got that picture of Fred and Angelina from the Yule Ball on the mantel and his hair was definitely touching his collar.”
George looked slightly uncomfortable for a moment before he mumbled, "I'm not in that picture."
"You had the same hair and you know it."
“Damn,” George said. “Alright let’s try another-”
“No way,” Hermione interrupted. “You forfeit your turn.”
“She’s right George, better luck next round.” Ginny rubbed her hands together and leaned forward. “I’ve got a perfect one - never have I ever been alive in 1979.”
After they all set their glasses down Hermione announced, “Never have I ever enjoyed being on a broomstick.”
“Does that really count?” George tried.
“It’s the only thing she isn’t fantastic at, let her have it,” Ginny told him.
George rolled his eyes and grumbled, “Fine.”
“Never have I ever broken into the Ministry,” Snape said.
“Ha!” George pointed at Snape. “I wasn’t there!”
Snape raised an eyebrow. “Are you certain?”
“He wasn’t,” Ginny said.
“It’s true,” Hermione added.
Snape shrugged. “Very well.”
They went a few more rounds, often no longer getting all three of the others. George had never worn women’s undergarments, and Snape refused to accept that the incident with Neville’s boggart counted. Rosmerta brought them all refills.
When it was Ginny's turn again she remembered her plan to find out if George was involved with his shop assistant.
“Never have I ever," she paused and looked around as if grabbing at the first random idea. "I don't know...kissed someone I work with,” she said with a shrug.
George annoyingly did not drink, and Ginny sighed in disappointment. She almost missed the fact that both Hermione and Snape did drink. And while Snape’s face remained neutral, Hermione was very obviously not looking at the man next to her. Her cheeks had gone pink. Now that’s interesting, Ginny thought.
“Never have I ever...” Hermione seemed flustered and at a loss for what to say. “Um...gotten less than exceeds expectations on an exam.”
George and Ginny had to drink, but Snape just shook his head with a small smirk. Hermione huffed a sigh, and it occurred to Ginny that the two professors were more alike than she had ever considered.
In the following few rounds it was clear that the alcohol was taking effect. Snape was speaking more, and Hermione’s cheeks went from pink to red. Ginny told them she’d never snuck out of the school, forgetting that she had the night they broke into the ministry. A fact her brother was happy to point out. George didn’t show any outward change, but his turns were getting more outlandish. He had never lost a duel with Sir Cadogan, and he had never forgotten his own birthday.
On her next turn, they learned that Hermione had never taken a hallucinogenic potion. After taking a drink, Snape gave Hermione a half smile and said, “Come by my office and we can fix that.” Hermione’s mouth dropped open and she swatted his arm.
Next, Snape got them all with having never turned himself into Harry Potter, and George with having never been to a Muggle cinema. Ginny had to drink along with the others because she’d gone with Harry, and the game was back to her. She had given up on George's possible secret - or even doing well at making the others drink - instead shifting her attention to a new plan.
She had to think of something that wasn’t too obvious. “Never have I ever...kissed someone more than five years older than me.” She looked at George as if she expected something from him, but in her peripheral vision she watched the two across the table. Hermione quickly sipped her drink while once again looking everywhere but Severus Snape.
But Snape also took a drink, a fact that George immediately caught.
“Please tell me it was McGonagall!" George exclaimed with a wild grin on his face.
“Merlin no,” Snape grimaced as he set his glass down. “Let’s see...she might have had a name that started with an M...Maggie? Milly?...something like that... housewife, red hair, bossy type-"
"Oi!" George shouted, looking both offended and delighted.
It was obvious the man was just winding George up, and Ginny was overtaken with laughter. Was Snape always this funny? Or only when he was drinking?
“Maybe,” she managed between giggles, “maybe Percy is his, he’s nothing like the rest of us so that would explain a lot.”
“Ginny, that is just rude!” Hermione looked horrified.
“To Percy or Snape?” Ginny asked, still trying to stifle her laughter.
“To your mum,” Hermione said. “Honestly!”
“He started it,” Ginny asserted, quickly adding, “and anyway it’s your turn.”
"Yes, well..." Hermione frowned at Snape like she wanted to chastise him too. “I have no idea....never have I ever...blown up a cauldron."
George held up his glass to Hermione. "Loads of times. There's a reason I buy them in bulk."
Ginny didn't have to drink, but Snape did.
"Really?" Hermione turned to the Professor, looking delighted. "I'd have thought you'd be above such dunderhead behavior."
Snape's nostrils flared as he faced her. "Extremely complex, experimental potions do occasionally misbehave."
"This is so enlightening," she went on, and Ginny realized Hermione's chair had at some point gotten closer to Snape's. "I'm going to use it whenever my students make an honest mistake - I'll say don't be so hard on yourself, even Professor Snape blows up cauldrons now and again."
"There's no need to make them think it's acceptable to be lazy in brewing,” Snape insisted, leaning so close to Hermione that she was looking up at him. “An explosion should only happen in controlled circumstances where the potioneer anticipates the risk and is prepared with proper shield charms. You make it sound as if it's a regular occurrence.”
"Three times last week," George announced as if it was an achievement. Snape didn’t move but his glare flashed to George. Her brother’s face fell and he quickly added, "Very tightly controlled, Protegos and such. No one died."
Snape returned his gaze to Hermione. "Never have I ever been covered in fur.”
"You know I've actually never managed that," George mused. "I wonder if I could?"
But the pair across the table appeared to be locked in a staring contest, completely oblivious of their redheaded companions.
“I’ve never hexed Sybill Trelawney to trip on her own shawls,” Hermione declared.
"You assume that was me. She seemed to think it was the inner eye issuing a warning. Anyway, it stopped her from sitting next to me.” He took a drink and gave her a rakish smirk. “I'd do it again."
Hermione huffed and opened her mouth, but he cut her off, “Never have I ever made someone help me break into the Hogwarts library after hours because I couldn't wait until morning.”
"Never have I ever corrected a published article and sent it back to the author."
“I’ve never color coded other people's lecture notes."
“I’ve never been Gilderoy Lockhart’s assistant.”
“I’ve never had to send someone else to the bank for me because I’ve been banned for life from entering Gringotts.”
“I’ve never been kicked out of the Hog’s Head,” Hermione retorted flatly. Ginny felt her own jaw drop.
Snape's face showed no reaction. He slowly reached out and lightly tugged one of Hermione’s curls, watching it bounce back. "I never lose objects in my own hair."
"It was a quill,” she protested, “and I knew it was there I just couldn't-" she cut herself off and seethed. It was a moment before she spoke again in a low haughty voice, "Never have I ever snogged a former student of mine.”
Snape's eyes narrowed to slits for a brief moment, before a wicked grin spread across his face. He held up his glass in an imitation of George and said, "Loads of times."
Hermione's mouth dropped open as she glared daggers at Snape. Instinctively, Ginny felt for her wand. She glanced at her brother, who somehow looked both pleased and worried.
When Snape spoke again it was in a matter of fact tone. "Never have I ever snogged someone old enough to be my parent."
Hermione held up her glass and took a sip before she announced, "He was positively ancient."
Ginny spoke quickly, "I need a refill and... um, Rosmerta looks busy. Yes, George let's go fetch them at the bar." Her brother shot her a why are you ruining all my fun look, before he sighed and rose out of his seat.
When they got to the bar Ginny asked for two glasses of water. She was not sober enough to process this. She waited for Rosmerta to turn away before leaning close to her brother and asking in a low voice, "What do you think is going on? Are they dating? Or like, colleagues with benefits or something?"
"I don't think so, there's too much tension there," George responded in the same hushed tone, nodding in the direction of their table. From the bar they could no longer see it behind a dividing wall. "And she said 'snogged a former student' not shagged so maybe it hasn't gone that far?"
"Or she's just being Hermione and avoiding rude language, and he's following form."
"But clearly something happened..." Ginny trailed off, thinking back on the pair's interactions over the evening as she accepted the water from Rosmerta. The two of them together seemed like a rather odd pairing, but as Ginny thought it over it made a weird kind of sense. They were both highly intelligent, overachieving perfectionists, who apparently did things like break into a library together. It could actually be kind of cute - if they didn't kill each other first.
"I've got it," George interrupted her thoughts. "They got more than friendly after some thrilling book discussion or something. And ever since they've both avoided bringing it up even though they clearly want it to happen again, so they're just dancing around each other like a couple of Hufflepuffs."
"Do they want it to happen again? They looked more like they wanted to hex each other just now."
"True, but she seemed pretty happy to see him when he showed up," George countered. "Come to think of it, why was Snape even here tonight? He never did say. He seems like more of a drink alone type than one who would pop by a place like this without a reason."
Ginny nodded. "That's a good point, and he barely resisted when I invited him to join us."
"Exactly!" George started looking excited. "What if he knew she was coming here and dropped by just to see how she'd react away from the school?"
"Alright, but right now they're both just going spare and making things worse. So what should we do? Do we like, need to save her?" Ginny asked, draining her glass and refilling it with her wand.
"Save her? What about him? She can be quite scary when she's angry."
"She's not that-" Ginny started to protest, before she remembered how long it took the scratches on Ron's arms to heal after Hermione set her conjured birds on him. She was about to tell George they should just save them both from each other when she noticed her brother looking at something and followed his gaze to the end of the bar. Snape was just turning from Rosmerta, who was putting coins in her till. The professor saw them watching him and gave the siblings a curt nod before turning and sweeping out of the bar.
"Wait," Ginny protested after the doors closed behind his black cloak. "He can't just leave - we're not done!"
George went and spoke with Rosmerta while Ginny stared at the closed doors, feeling thoroughly disappointed. How could Snape leave? Granted, it was probably the right thing to do, but it was just so anticlimactic.
"Apparently he's paid our entire bill," George said, returning to Ginny's side. "I think the Professor's dismissed the class."
"He paid for all of us? Damn, I was just about to go tell Hermione what a berk he is for leaving, but that kind of knocks the wind out of it," Ginny lamented.
"Oh he's a right berk, if I'd known, I would have been drinking something more expensive this whole time."
Ginny rolled her eyes. “So what’s been going on with you, George? You haven’t been around lately, what have you been up to?”
“Oh you know me,” he cast his eyes around the bar, “just working at the shop.”
Ginny shook her head. "I know you George and it’s not that. Mum thinks you’ve got a girlfriend. Is it Verity?" She held up both hands. "I promise I won’t make a big deal out of it, certainly not after tonight.”
“What, Verity? Merlin no, of course not,” George looked genuinely shocked by the idea. “She’s my assistant, and she’s not even...I mean she’s a fine employee but...just, no."
“What? She’s pretty...in a pinched sort of way...”
“If you say so.”
“Well if it’s not Verity then what is going on?”
George sighed. “It’s Angelina Johnson.”
“Oh George, that’s great! She's brilliant - I've always liked her, and she actually is pretty. Why would you be hiding that?”
“Well it’s still early, and you know how mum is - always broadcasting everything to the world...” George fiddled with his sleeves for a moment. “And, you know...Fred.”
“They were barely together! And that was ages ago. Besides, she probably didn’t know which one of you was asking her to the ball that day. Maybe she was disappointed.”
“Not funny Gin.”
“You’re telling me something is not funny? Fred would have laughed.”
“Yes, well he had a terrible sense of humor.”
“I think he’d be alright with it,” Ginny went on. “He’d say she was lucky to get the second most handsome wizard in Britain.”
George chuckled, “He would.”
“And I’m happy for you, really. So much that I promise I won’t say anything to mum....as long as you don’t give James another Dungbomb.”
“Fair enough, but when do I tell her he’s getting a whole box to create a distraction.”
Ginny gave her brother her best angry mum glare and told him to go back to their table while she popped into the restroom. When she came out, an entirely sober looking Hermione was standing by the bar talking to George. She had her cloak on and her bag over her shoulder. She handed Ginny a Sober-Up Potion - she had already given one to George - and the three agreed to call it a night. George wished Hermione happy birthday a final time before he ducked into the Floo.
Ginny waited for her brother to leave before turning to her friend. “Hermione, are you okay? I mean-”
“I’m fine,” she quickly responded. “Just got a bit carried away. Could you...maybe not mention to anyone-”
“Thanks, I asked George to do the same.” Hermione spoke more to the floor as she adjusted the strap of her bag. They stood in awkward silence while Ginny uncorked and swallowed the potion.
“Do you really just carry Sober-Up around?” Ginny asked when her head fully cleared.
“No, Se-” Hermione bit her lip before continuing, “Professor Snape gave them to me before he left.” She was looking at her feet again.
“Well that was annoyingly thoughtful,” Ginny mumbled.
Hermione rolled her eyes and glanced at the pub's door. "Well, I'd better head back-"
“Look, I need to say something” Ginny started quickly, “I know it’s not my place and I promise I’ll shut up after I say it, but you really should resolve things with him because there is obviously some major sexual tension between you,” - Hermione held up a hand but Ginny plowed on - “and even though it’s unconventional, I can actually see things working between you two-”
“No, I'm not-”
“-because you're both kind of weird in the same way, and you might actually be able to make a go of it if you both stop pretending it’s not there so why not-”
Ginny froze, mid-sentence.
Hermione now had both hands held up. She lowered them as a small smile formed on her face and the color rose in her cheeks. “He’s waiting for me outside.”
“And we’re going to talk.”
“Just talk? That’s...disappointing.”
“Ginny!” Hermione chastised. “Yes...for now. He insisted I drink that Sober-Up potion before he left. Said I’d come to my senses.”
“And have you?”
"About the things I said? Absolutely! I can't believe I brought up the Hog's Head-"
"That was brilliant!"
"That was awful, he must hate me!"
"He doesn't hate you. I recall him playing with your hair right after you said that."
"Oh...did he?" Hermione reached up to her own curls, as if feeling them for the first time.
"And what about you and Snape?" Ginny smirked. "Have you come to your senses about that?"
Hermione bit her lip and adjusted her bag, before she shook her head with an embarrassed grin. “Not a bit, I think I like him worse than ever.”
“Well then, happy birthday Hermione. Enjoy your talking.”
Hermione gave Ginny another glare. It shifted into a genuine smile before she turned and walked out of the pub.